Major Criminal Justice Reforms Pass House
State Rep. Terry O’Donnell authored three bills advancing criminal justice reform that passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives this week.
House Bill 2281 creates graduated penalties for those accused of certain larceny or forgery crimes, reducing some crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and modifying fines as well as the mandatory lengths of sentences. The bill passed by a vote of 84-8.
House Bill 2284 would require public defenders to receive continuing education training regarding best treatment practices for defendants with substance abuse or mental health problems and would require training for judges and state prosecutors on how to best deal with victims of domestic violence and trauma. The training is contingent on funding availability. The bill passed 84-2.
House Bill 2286 would allow some nonviolent state inmates to apply for parole after serving one-fourth of their sentence if they have earned enough credits instead of the one-third now required. The bill also would require additional Pardon and Parole Board member training and better communication from the board to improve parole outcomes. And, it will ensure better mental health and substance abuse treatment standards. The bill passed the House 81-3.
The bills were part of the recommendation of the Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force convened by Gov. Mary Fallin last year.
O’Donnell said the state’s overcrowded prisons pose not only a financial burden but a safety issue for corrections officers, and they open the state to lawsuits.
Oklahoma has the highest incarceration rate in the nation for women and the third highest rate for men. Without these and other reform measures, Oklahoma’s prison population is expected to grow by 25 percent over the next 10 years, which would cost a total of $1.9 billion.
These measures are intended to eliminate the need for more than 7,800 prison beds at an estimated savings of about $148.7 million.
The measures now move to the state Senate for consideration.
Medical Billing Legislation Clears House Unanimously
Legislation aimed to lessen surprise medical bills passed Tuesday out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a unanimous vote of 93 to 0.
House Bill 2216 by Rep. Sean Roberts requires a non-contracted provider to give a health plan enrollee notice, a good-faith estimate of charges and a disclosure that the provider will either accept the assignment of benefits for the plan’s allowed amount or balance-bill the enrollee.
Roberts said patients will then be able to request a different provider who is covered by insurance instead of being subjected to an unexpected medical bill.
HB 2216 now moves to the Senate, where state Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud, is the author.
Roberts represents House District 36, which includes parts of Osage and Tulsa counties.
Martin to Resign at end of Session to Lead Norman Chamber
State Rep. Scott Martin today announced that at the end of this legislative session he will resign his seat in the Legislature to lead the Norman Chamber of Commerce. At its Board meeting today, the Norman Chamber named Rep. Martin its next president and chief executive officer beginning June 1. He has submitted the appropriate paperwork to Governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker Charles McCall, tendering his resignation from his House seat effective May 31.
Bill strengthening drunk driving laws clears House
A bill aimed at combating drunk driving passed Wednesday out of the Oklahoma House of Representatives with a vote of 82 to 6.
House Bill 1605 by state Rep. John Enns allows courts to order a person convicted of driving under the influence to abstain from alcohol for a period of time determined by the court. Under the measure, individuals under the age of 21 who are convicted of a DUI will see their license revoked or suspended until they turn 21 and an ignition interlock device added to their vehicle. For individuals over 21, the driver’s license will be replaced with a license stamped with “alcohol restricted,” which will alert law enforcement officers who pull them over in the future of this previous DUI.
HB 1605 now proceeds to the Senate for consideration, where Sen. Roland Pederson, R-Burlington, is the author.
Bill lessening tag requirement for bear hunting passes House
A bill changing the requirement for bear tags cleared the House of Representatives Wednesday with a vote of 59 to 31.
House Bill 2001 by Rep. Rick West prohibits lifetime hunting and fishing license holders from having to purchase individual tags for bear hunting. People exempt from the hunting license fee will also be exempt from attaching a tag to a killed bear or from purchasing a tag for a bear.
Bear hunting only occurs Latimer, Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties in Oklahoma.
Rep. John Bennett co-authored the bill and debated in favor of its passage on the House floor.
HB 2001 now moves to the state Senate, where Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, is the author.
Oklahoma Senate approves judicial reforms
The Oklahoma Senate on Tuesday approved a handful of judicial reform bills, including measures that would change the way state judges are appointed.
“These reforms are a measured approach to help restore the balance of power among the three, co-equal branches of government in Oklahoma. Too many times, we’ve seen the judiciary extend beyond its constitutional role and instead take on the role of a super-legislator. These changes also will roll back the outsized role the trial lawyers play in appointing judges to the bench. The governor’s office and the members of the Senate are directly elected by the citizens of Oklahoma and should be afforded more authority and responsibility in judicial appointments,” said President Pro Tempore Mike Schulz, R-Altus.
Sen. Anthony Sykes, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered several of the judicial reform measures.
“Failing to enact judicial reforms continues to put Oklahoma at the mercy of a system that gives too much power to a select group of trial lawyers instead of the duly elected representatives of the people. The governor and members of the Legislature are immediately accountable to the people for the decisions they make. These common-sense reforms will provide more accountability and help put more power into the hands of the people, as our founders intended,” said Sykes, R-Moore.
Among the bills approved by the Senate were:
• SB 708 (Sykes) requires a district judge to have served as lead counsel in at least three jury trials before being elected or appointed to serve on the bench.
• SB 779 (Sykes) changes the amount of judges each judicial district may nominate.
• SJR 43 (Sykes) would allow voters to decide whether to amend the judicial appointment process to model the federal system. Under this proposal, the governor would nominate candidates to fill judicial vacancies and the Oklahoma Senate would confirm or deny the governor’s appointment. The Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) would rate the governor’s judicial nominees as either “qualified” or “not qualified.”
• SJR 44 (Sykes) would allow voters to decide whether to amend the Constitution to modify the judicial nominating process. Under this proposal, the JNC would provide the governor with five qualified nominees to fill a judicial vacancy, instead of the current recommendation of three nominees. The governor would be allowed to reject those nominees and request five new nominees. The governor would then select one nominee, whose name would be forwarded to the Oklahoma Senate for confirmation.
• SB 213 (Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow) would change the boundaries of Oklahoma Supreme Court judicial districts to correspond with the number of congressional districts in Oklahoma plus adding at-large positions.
Senate approves county option for Sunday liquor store sales
A measure that would give counties the option to decide whether to allow Sunday liquor store sales has won full Senate approval. Sen. Stephanie Bice began working two years ago to help Oklahomans modernize state liquor laws, with voters overwhelmingly supporting State Question 792 last November. Senate Bill 211 represents another step in that effort, and will address an important parity issue.
The county vote could come about one of two ways—either the county commissioners could call for a special election or 15 percent of registered voters in a county could sign a petition asking for a vote. Bice noted there are still 18 dry counties in Oklahoma, meaning they do not allow liquor by the drink. They could hold a vote on becoming wet counties as well as holding a vote to allow Sunday liquor store sales.
Senate Bill 211 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
Senate approves Impaired Driving Elimination Act 2
The Senate unanimously passed legislation Wednesday to change how first-time Driving Under the Influence (DUI) offenses are handled in Oklahoma. Sen. Kim David is the author of Senate Bill 643, also known as the Impaired Driver Elimination Act 2 (IDEA2), which is strongly supported by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). The legislation would create the Impaired Driver Accountability Program (IDAP) within the Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Only first-time DUI offenders would be eligible to enter the program. Participants could have their license revocation reduced from one year to six months. If they successfully complete the program, their driving record will reflect that as well as no revocation, which will prevent higher insurance rates and will make seeking employment easier. Participants will also not be charged any reinstatement fees.
Those wishing to enter IDAP would have ten days from the date of their arrest to submit their application form. They would also have to have an ADSAC or DUI assessment reflecting a treatment category of I or II within 45 days as well as provide proof of installation of an interlock device. Participants would also be required to not receive any verified ignition violations during their last 60 days in the program.
Anyone who refuses to go into the program will be required to have a modified license and an interlock device on their vehicle for one year (rather than the current 180 days) before they can reinstate their license. The revocation will go on their record.
SB 643 makes it a misdemeanor for anyone to operate a non-interlock vehicle for a drunk driver who is in the IDAP program or has an interlock restricted license. It would also make refusing a breath test following a suspected drunk driving arrest a misdemeanor punishable with up to ten days in jail or a $1,000 fine.
The bill, which was requested by the Governor’s Impaired Driving Prevention Advisory Council, now goes to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
Oklahoma Senate Approves Education Bills
Teacher pay, teacher recruitment, reducing administrative costs among measures
The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday approved several education related bills, including measures that address teacher pay, teacher recruitment, and the reduction of administrative costs, among other issues.
The measures approved by the Senate on Wednesday are among the education issues included in the Senate Republicans’ 2017 legislative agenda.
Sen. Gary Stanislawski, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, authored Senate Bill 618, which modifies the minimum salary schedule and increases pay for classroom teachers.
Among the other education measures approved by the Senate were:
• SB 514 (Stanislawski) requires the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to study shared administrative services of school districts in the state in the hopes of reducing administrative costs.
• SB 15 (Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Piedmont) directs the OSDE and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to implement a targeted recruiting program for teachers.
• SB 70 (Sen. Julie Daniels, R-Bartlesville) directs the State Auditor and Inspector to conduct a performance audit on the OSDE.
• SB 72 (Daniels) directs the State Auditor and Inspector to conduct a performance audit of the Department of Career and Technology.
• SB 84 (Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair) extends the probationary promotion program for students under the Reading Sufficiency Act.
• SB 243 (Stanislawski) requires a monthly financial report to be prepared by the local school’s treasurer and sent to the local school board.
• SB 244 (Stanislawski) requires virtual charter schools to track attendance.
• SB 389 (Stanislawski) requires the State Board of Education to review and send a report to legislative leadership on pupil grade level weights every five years.
• SB 515 (Stanislawski) modifies the point system in determining a school’s grade on the state A-F report card system.
• SB 261 (Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona) creates a task force to study and make recommendations on reforms to the State Aid formula, including but not be limited to the grade level weights, the student category weights and the transportation factor of the State Aid formula.
• SB 393 (Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate) allows teachers to objectively review the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.
• SB 428 (Sen. Jason Smalley, R-Stroud) allows retired teachers to be re-employed by schools.
• SB 529 (Smalley) increases accountability to combat fraud in the Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) to ensure funds are available for students in the program.
• SB 445 (Sen. Joe Newhouse, R-Broken Arrow) increases flexibility within existing tax credits related to the Oklahoma Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship Act to better serve low-income and high-needs students.
• SB 450 (Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro) instructs schools to treat religious viewpoints expressed by a student with the same respect it would treat a secular viewpoint.
• SB 632 (Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee) creates the Education Compact for Students in State Care Act, which established a board to facilitate the transfer of children in state care to a school.
• Senate Joint Resolution 9 (Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow) increases civics education by requiring OSDE to incorporate a citizenship test into the standards for grades 9-12.
Gov. Fallin Appoints Former Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez as Secretary of State
Governor Mary Fallin today announced that former Oklahoma Commerce Secretary Dave Lopez is re-joining her Cabinet to fill the vacant position of secretary of state.
Lopez will begin his new duties Monday, March 27. His appointment still must be confirmed by the Oklahoma Senate.
Lopez succeeds Mike Hunter, whom the governor appointed last month as attorney general.
As secretary of state, Lopez will serve as a senior adviser to the governor on policy, economic and legislative issues. He served as the governor’s secretary of commerce from 2011 until 2013.
Lopez is a longtime civic and community leader and currently serves as an independent consultant.
From 2013 to 2014, he served as interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools while the school board launched and concluded a national search for a permanent superintendent.
Lopez previously served as president of Oklahoma City-based American Fidelity Foundation, a charitable foundation that gives grants for economic development, education, human services and the arts. Before joining American Fidelity Foundation, Lopez served as president of Downtown Oklahoma City, Inc.
Prior to that, he had a 22-year career with SBC Communications (now AT&T), including serving as president of SBC Oklahoma and as president of SBC Texas.
Lopez serves on numerous boards, including the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Banc First Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield, Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, University of Oklahoma College of Education Board of Advisers, University of Central Oklahoma Foundation and Wes Welker Foundation.
He has received many honors and awards including induction into the Oklahoma City University Commerce & Industry Hall of Honor, the Corporate Advocate Award from the Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Humanitarian of the Year award from the Oklahoma City chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Lopez earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New Mexico State University. He and his wife, Lana, live in Oklahoma City and have five children and eight grandchildren.
Gov. Fallin Praises Senate for Passage of Criminal Justice Measures
Governor Mary Fallin today praised the Oklahoma Senate for its approval of eight bills addressing improvements in the criminal justice system. The Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force, which was convened by the governor last year, recommended these reforms after studying the data and facts of the criminal justice system in Oklahoma, and the governor asked lawmakers to consider them in her State of the State.
“These historic votes will improve public safety in Oklahoma, and save our state $1.9 billion,” said Fallin. “Making smart, data-driven decisions on how to increase safety while decreasing our overcapacity prisons is key to pursuing smaller, more efficient, and more moral government. My thanks to Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat and Senator Wayne Shaw for sponsoring this landmark legislation, and for taking a huge step towards a better criminal justice system and a safer Oklahoma.”
The Senate passed:
- Senate Bill (SB) 603, which would require the development of individualized plans for inmates to help them better reintegrate into society.
- SB 604, which would provide training for law enforcement officers on how to better deal with victims of domestic violence.
- SB 609, which would establish the framework for a training and certification process for professional victim advocates.
- SB 649, which would distinguish between those who have a history of committing violent crimes from persons with a history of committing nonviolent offenses in determining how much their sentences should be enhanced for being repeat offenders
- SB 650, which would reform qualifications for certain expungement categories.
- SB 689, which would allow judges and prosecutors more options in diverting people from prison to treatment and supervision programs. It also would decrease financial barriers for convicted individuals seeking to re-enter society, would expand the use of graduated sanctions and incentives that could be used in response to inmate behavior and would expand eligibility for certain programs that are alternatives to incarceration.
- SB 786, which would create an additional burglary tier to distinguish by severity.
- SB 793, which would set up an oversight council to monitor the effectiveness of criminal justice reform efforts.
The bills now head to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for consideration.
The Oklahoma Justice Reform Task Force included those in law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, members of the business community, victim advocates, mental health and addiction professionals, and legislators.
Oklahoma has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country. It has the highest rate for women – a ranking the state has held since 1991. Moreover, Oklahoma’s prison population is projected to grow 25 percent in the next 10 years at a cost of $1.2 billion in capital expenditures and an additional $700 million in operating costs over 10 years. Proposed legislation will save more than 7,800 beds, averting the immediate need for new prisons and much of these additional expenses.